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Tamuda Bay

By Ludivine RIBEIRO Sofitel Tamuda Bay

« At this time of the afternoon, the landscape is washed of colour, water and sky melting into one and the same dazzle. .. »

 

I close the book and hold it out the the journalist. You should read this book, I say. « The Same Sky« . The answers you are looking for are in it. We never pay enough attention to our surroundings. We think it’s just scenery. We are wrong.

He sets the book on the glazed tile table, next to his mint tea. He doesn’t care. Nevertheless, he has his eye on the bathing beauty in the flowered bikini, her long legs folded on the glossy band.

Checks that his dictaphone was still running. Swats at a mosquito with his hand.

How did it happen ? He repeats.

Really, you should read it, I insist. This woman has understood everything. Exactly as if she were inside my head. Hasn’t it ever happened to you, to stumble upon a book that speaks for you, as if the writer were your double, your sister soul ?

It’s still hot, under the foliage of the Café Hafa, even if a few lights twinkled far off, in the greyish mist that was descending on the ocean.

We think we master the course of our lives, whereas we decide as much as a feather in the wind, I answer him as one throws a bone to a dog, and he snatches it up all the same, thrilled, he even takes out his pen so as not to lose a crumb.

With time, I learned to understand journalists, what they like. And I also know that you cannot tell them everything.

Do you realize that Jimi Hendrix was perhaps seated at this very table, under this same sky ? I add to create a diversion.

He can insist as much as he wants , I will give nothing away. How could he understand , anyway ? Certain truths can’t be told, they must be lived.

That year, I was still in my former life, and even if it shone less than before, if the wail of my guitar didn’t bring me to my knees as soon as the third song, if the girls no longer screamed Leniiiiii ripping off their lace panties, but just LE-NY-LE-NY clapping their hands in rhythm, their sparkling pupils like so many stars under the stage, a carpet of dark stars and flying hair, my loyal groupies, even if my nights no longer had the same scent of madness, of gin and patchouli, it was still my life.

It was all going quite badly, to tell the truth. You need a hit and fast, repeated Tampico,my manager. One can tell it’s not you who writes them, I would growl. Dead leaves piled up in the pool, the bills accumulated on the other side of the window with a strange mimicry, and Mia had left me at the end of the summer, but that, that wasn’t necessarily the worst news.

Early in that month of November, I had just given a concert in Cadiz, in a half-empty theatre. I avoided admitting it to myself, but I was performing in more and more unlikely cities – where Tampico didn’t even deign to accompany me anymore -, in concert halls getting smaller and smaller, in front of fans getting older and older. Tearing off my shirt no longer seemed indispensable and as for smashing my guitar, I didn’t even dream of it anymore. I had obviously lost something on the way : faith, rage or simply the energy of youth, but I didn’t admit that to myself, either.

A slightly plump Andalusian wearing a large skirt with a watermelon-slice print was waiting for me at the stage door. She had soft, very white skin, her mouth smelled like strawberry, and I hung out with her all night, before taking the coach for the next leg of my tour, Tarifa, in the southern- most part of Spain.

Standing in front of the Strait of Gibraltar, this vague memory of Geography class whose reality suddenly became concrete, even troubling, a tongue of sea sliding between two continents, so thin that one could swim across it – moreover some have tried it, with varying luck – , I thought of the novel by Marguerite Duras; find a rich and desperate woman who would take me on her yacht and carry me far from here.

What happened next, I am incapable of really explaining. Was it because this city resembled Morocco as I had always imagined it: with its white-washed facades, its narrow little streets, its

 

exhalations of warm earth, cannabis and jasmine, or was it this demented wind, the surfers, their splashy youth, the kites in the salty sky, a contagious liberty, I couldn’t say, but when I saw that immaculate boat, then the scarlet letters as if drawn with lipstick on its gleaming broadsides, Tangier-Tarifa 35’, I bought a ticket and I took to the sea.

“Take to the sea as one takes a wife”, the refrain of my last success began playing in my head, and I spent the crossing scribbling, as if possessed, obsessed by the soul of Tangier even before setting foot there. I was going to write a new hit, for sure, I would, at last, rise from my ashes.

Tangier. Danger. It is there that Keith Richards stole Anita Pallenberg from Brian Jones, in the Spring of 1967. They were barely twenty-five years old, they wheeled around in a Bentley and wore silk ruffled shirts and ostrich-feather boas, sheep-skin vests and huge hats. Spellbound by Sufi spirituality and the Jebalan music, Brian sought inspiration and trance in Jajouka, a village lost in the Rif mountains where all men are musicians, while Keith and Anita hung out at the Café Baba or at the turquoise mosaic poolsides.

Danger. Tangier. Tangerine. The smell of squished tangerines, their rotten rinds that stick to sandals. Tangier. Temptress. The gazelle horn pastries, the dates, the baklava, candied rose buds in the velvety tagines. Tangier. Tilt. Tango.

The taxi stopped so abruptly that my forehead struck the glass. It was probably then when it all started. Not because of the shock, no, but the colour. A Klein blue cube, or royal blue or Majorelle, a cube of a blue the bluest one can imagine, rose in the even bluer background, adorned with seven significant letters that I could find anywhere in the world : SOFITEL.

“A seaside hotel”, I had asked the driver, who had nodded his head before tearing away. Discovering at that moment the number on the meter, I understood – but a little late – that a) I had fallen asleep and b) I was probably quite far from Tangier.

– Welcome to Tamuda Bay, a man in valet uniform said.

Tamuda Bay, very well. No matter.  Tampico started blinking on my mobile phone screen, which I switched off straight away, and I went through the giant wooden lattice screens leading to the lobby as if tumbling to the bottom of the white rabbit’s hole. I was, however, out of reach, on the other side of the strait.

My room was not a cube but a rectangle. A rectangle encased in white wood, set at sand level. The gracious creature who had accompanied me babbled behind my back: air conditioned, safe, jacuzzi, for the reception desk press 9, kettle, coffee machine, if you need more coffee capsules all you need to do is ask, and when I opened the bay window the idea of 74 television channels made me laugh.

When you exit the room, you enter the sea. I’m hardly exaggerating.

The Mediterranean laid at my feet, immense and available just for me, so close it seemed not flat but high, a swath of colour mounting toward the sky, a mystery, a bit like water standing straight up without a glass around it.

But the most amazing thing was without doubt to find here, so far, the sea of my childhood; that with the swan-headed rubber ring and my mother’s arms, exactly the same one, but not green and capricious as I had always known it, no, a new version of it, still and blue.

It was the same sea, yes, and yet so different, strangely calm, distant, unconcerned by the beach, running right to left, just passing by. Was this due to the narrowness of the strait? An absence of currents? This sea seemed contained in a bowl of sand, so suddenly dark, silent, without crashing waves licking the driftwood, or so few, unrolling slantwise its pleated fabric, its shades of blue, without wasting a single drop on the shore.

Very quickly, it took up all the room.

The vicinity around my room was spiked with little banana trees, baby agaves, new palm trees that would one day tickle the stars, but that for now clung to the red soil, intimidated by the marine wind, near the spry yuccas, spreading their pointed fingers in the pure air. All the moving charm of a fledgling garden.

The gardeners, women in traditional north Moroccan dress hoed the red earth all day long; silent under their hats rimmed in pompoms, invisible and bent like the exotic plants.

 

Everything was there, in front of me. An enormous striped painting. Grass-green, sandy beige, ultramarine blue, turquoise blue, with an occasional streak of pearl grey, the aligned seagulls. The painters hadn’t invented anything.

Everything was there, and I needed nothing else.

In the morning I went out before dawn; on the obscure beach still tasting of November, and I waited for the sunrise on the sea. In that of my childhood, the sun dipped at dusk, and never had I thought that it could be otherwise. So, every morning I was on the lookout for that breathtaking and incongruous pink, those clouds of grenadine syrup exploding behind the Negro Cabo hill.

A wonder as intense as brief, for in the next minute it all became an innocent grey again, as if nothing had ever occurred, as if one had been dreaming or eating forbidden mushrooms, and even imagining that pink suddenly became impossible.

I dawdled along the beach crunchy with shattered split shells, not destroyed but transformed into something else: bronze fans, milky pebbles, pearly nails that I stuffed in my pockets wondering where the violence of this water, mild as a marsh, was hidden.

All these gifts from the sea filled me with a simple pleasure. I could have picked them up by handfuls, without sorting, this abundance made the child in me crazy – especially the caramel shells, perfectly striated, with which we make Venus’ bras – and to calm him I concentrated on the tiny squares of broken glass escaped from unknown bathrooms and pools, the Turkish baths that I will never know though a fragment of them rested in the palm of my hand.

From what city, by what chance did they end up in the sea, then this beach, after days, months, years of surf, bits of softened glass, opaque, polished, in all sorts of blue hues and sea-greens: aquamarine, lagoon, jade, iceberg, I searched for the exact names while arranging my treasures on the round marble table in the room, where during entire afternoons, like in mediation, I drew a strange, soothing reassurance from these ephemeral mosaics.

Even more bizarre, I sometimes surprised myself stretching while looking at the sea, like happy people do. Some mornings, the delirious color of the panorama, a pageant of blues where no one comes out a winner, a higher bid at every instant, nearly made me forget breakfast. Yet I wouldn’t have missed the delicious Moroccan crepes for anything in the world – the baghrir with the spongy morel texture, the Imsemen plump and round, and my favorites, the rghifa, moist and crispy at the same time – coated with a divine mixture of honey, almond and Argan oil named amlou.

Very soon, I no longer knew what I was doing there, nor what I could do elsewhere, I had no desire to write anymore, no need; looking at the landscape could be enough to fill a life, I discovered, the marbling of the sea, so variable that it is a painting renewed every hour.

In Tamuda Bay anyone could become a painter, if you are not careful: give up everything, sell your soul, lose your mind and the rest, I had reflected on that from the first day.

The days passed by like the wind, at once so empty and so full. I had stopped counting. Nothing was urgent. I watched the sea and went out only very late, for dinner on the restaurant’s velvet saffron cushions, always alone, before going back by the beach under the inverted moon of Oriental nights.

One evening, while returning from one of these solitary dinners, I perceived something unusual.

It was all there since that morning so it only half-surprised me.

To start with, there was no pink dawn at six in the morning. I stayed for a long moment on the beach, stunned, wandering in the company of the cormorants on the cool shell carpet, hoping the show had just been delayed, but there was nothing.

A little later, toward eight o’clock, when I went out on the terrace wrapped in my bathrobe, the sea had disappeared. Erased. Evaporated. Engulfed by the sky. Or the opposite. The painting had but two streaks: a thin band of beige, then a diluted blue-grey as far as you could see.

All day, I floated in and out of that same foggy state, as if I had mysteriously become the surroundings. And so, coming back from dinner under an abnormally mammoth moon – for days the newspapers had spoken only of it, the supermoon of the century which illuminated the night like a giant projector – I spotted a light seeping from the partially opened door of my room. I first thought of a thief, but what could one take from me? Maybe it was Zohra, come to serve the

 

evening fare at an absurd hour, or that elusive butler who sometimes fills the jacuzzi with bath foam and rose petals, setting a steaming teapot next to the bath towels?

Drawing closer, I observed that the glimmer did not come from my door but from another, just next to it, that I had never noticed before. You could hear voices, music, it seemed lively and joyous and I was about to dare discretely glancing in when someone grabbed me saying but really now, don’t stay there, come in, make yourself at home, what can I get you?

At that moment, I couldn’t see much. The air was saturated with smoke, a moving fog that made the flesh-pink Murano glass flower-lamps held out by naked black metal goddesses even more blinding, in an odd odor of velvet and dust.

I ordered a Tom Collins and sunk into a couch studded with cigarette burns, a little dizzy from the brouhaha of the conversations and undoubtedly the cocktails previously sipped at the Koudiaz Bar.

-Jack is my oldest friend and I won’t have you giving him any pain.

-Pain needs no one to give it, you know that very well.

A woman burnt like old toast in cowboy boots and hat asked me for a light. She was a New- Yorker, ex-photographer at Club Med and could have called herself Bonanza Jellybean. She was drinking chocolate in a glass decorated with a winged lion.

I think that teen-agers say fewer idiocies than adults, or at least the idiocies are more charming.

A muted soprano voice could be heard, laughter behind high seat backs, the tinkling of glasses and still the place had something church-like, this thing that tightens your throat, a thick atmosphere which spoke of the condensed past, of so many centuries and people sandwiched on the same sofas, trading kisses, tears and prayers.

I was telling myself I had had too much to drink and that I had better crawl back to the neighboring door, when he arrived.

Have you observed the blue walls, just before three o’clock?

I had observed them, of course. I even remained, petrified, as before a painting into which I was invited to enter. At this time of the afternoon, the sun projected the shadows of the yuccas, agaves and birds of paradise with singular precision. Matisse’s cut-outs, I had thought.

Exactly, he approved, a mischievous look behind his round glasses. It all stems from there.

Nothing was ever the same after that first trip in 1912, you know? The orange on the blue, that’s from the birds of paradise. The Fauvism cocktail. And this proximity of the Mediterranean to the mountains, a bit like in Nice, it’s troubling, isn’t it?

He was eating a huge slice of cake, regularly ridding his thighs of pistachio slivers and powdered sugar. I remember him explaining that this new area, in full development, is called the Moroccan Riviera. And then nothing more. I was on the beach, the sun had just risen and at the edge of the garden, the sparrows were already perched on the tips of the yuccas like Christmas tree bulbs.

How can you come out unmarked from all that blue? He had said that, too, I remember. When I asked the question, Zohra maitained that there had never been a door next to mine.

Where could it lead to, this door? she had chuckled, positioning herself on the other side of the partition. You would have entered your closet, Sir.

She was right, of course. But as the day went by, the words of my new friend came back to me. “Joy is in the sky, the trees, the flowers, never forget that” he had told me, just before his friend Paul – a sort of dandy who would have pleased Mia, a tall guy with a lock of hair in his eyes – interrupted us. This Paul wanted to explain to me that it is in Tangier that his life took a swing.

He had given up music for writing and had never again gone back.

-You’re a musician, aren’t you? Watch out for the wide turn, if it’s not already too late.

-Rightly so, I feel like a derailed train, I replied, and I was the first to be surprised. It was the exact definition of my state, even if I had never formulated it yet.

It’s always like that when it starts. A story of rails.

I was trying to understand, but the surrounding noise didn’t help, nor did the Tom Collins drinks and before I could ask him for specifics, the strange Paul flew away on the arm of a voluptuous red- head in a green silk kimono.

So Zohra could tell me all she wanted to about nonexistent doors, I hadn’t dreamt it, all the same.

 

At the beginning of my stay, it often comes back to me, it is a fisherman who explained to me where I was. In M’diq. The King lives here, he added, gesturing with his arm to the other side of the beach where, I had discovered, uniformed men kept guard.

M’diq, it means narrow pass, he had continued.

I had thought of the strait, naturally. But what if it pertained to something else?

-Okay, but how did you become a painter? Repeated the journalist.

I had forgotten him, this guy, he seems to be one tough cookie. You must never underestimate your opponent. Have you ever seen the sea at M’diq? I queried.

No, seriously, our readers want to know, he insisted. How can a rock star become a painter overnight, without ever having learned to draw or master colors, and with this talent, this magic that brings you to be compared to the greatest, from Matisse to…

You can’t explain everything to journalists. Well, that’s my opinion. For a second I considered it, but frankly, how to explain that after that bizarre night, in the closet of my room, behind that inexistent door, I had found a pair of glasses; light, round glasses finely rimmed in silver that have become my lucky charm, a mascot that I could not do without when painting.

Alongside, on the parquet floor, I also found a morsel of cake trimmed with pistachios which I offered to the cormorants in the limpid landscape of that January morning, water and sky melting into one and the same dazzle.